Man suspected of intentionally driving off California cliff

West

MONTARA, Calif. (AP) — The driver of a Tesla that plunged off a cliff in Northern California, seriously wounding two children and a second adult, intentionally caused the crash and has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and child abuse, the California Highway Patrol said Tuesday.

Dharmesh A. Patel of Pasadena will be booked into San Mateo County Jail after he’s released from a hospital, the highway patrol said in a statement. It wasn’t immediately known if Patel has an attorney.

“CHP investigators worked throughout the night interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence from the scene,” the highway patrol statement said. “Based on the evidence collected, investigators developed probable cause to believe this incident was an intentional act.”

Patel, another adult, a 4-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy survived after their car tumbled down a notorious cliffside along the Pacific Coast Highway near an area called Devil’s Slide that’s known for fatal wrecks, officials said. It was not immediately clear whether the four were members of the same family.

The Tesla sedan plummeted more than 250 feet from the highway and crashed into a rocky outcropping. It appears to have flipped a few times before landing on its wheels, wedged against the cliff just feet from the surf, Brian Pottenger, a battalion chief for Coastside Fire Protection District/Cal Fire, said Monday.

Robin Johnson was driving with her two-year-old son when she saw the crash.

“I’m seeing this car drive fast, I’m not hearing any sort of sounds that would make it sound like an out of control car, you know? Like screeching. I didn’t see brake lights — I didn’t see here any. It didn’t look like it was trying to stop essentially,” Johnson, an eyewitness, said on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” Wednesday.

“To see it kind of turn and veer, right, and go right over, you know, this cliff and straight down. I thought there’s no way this was an accident.”

In this image from video provided by Cal Fire San Mateo, Santa Cruz Unit, emergency personnel respond to the scene after a Tesla plunged off a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Northern California, near an area known as Devil’s Slide, leaving four people in critical condition, a fire official said. The vehicle fell about 250 feet (76.20 meters) from the highway, the fire official said. Motorists were told to expect delays as rescuers worked. Helicopters were expected to transport four people to hospitals. (Cal Fire San Mateo – Santa Cruz Unit via AP)

Crashes along Devil’s Slide, a steep, rocky and winding coastal area about 15 miles south of San Francisco that’s between Pacifica and Montara, rarely end with survivors.

“I mean, this is an area that you want to be paying attention. You don’t want to be speeding, you don’t want to be driving out of control. And this car was just going the same speed it was going on the highway but not on the highway,” Johnson said.

On Monday, the victims were initially listed in critical condition but all four were conscious and alert when rescuers arrived. Rescue officials say it is a miracle that all four survived the dramatic wreck.

“We go there all the time for cars over the cliff and they never live. This was an absolute miracle,” Pottenger said Monday.

There was no guardrail at the spot where the sedan went off the cliff, officials said.

Witnesses called 911 around 10:15 a.m. Monday and the crews set up rope system from the highway to lower firefighters down the cliff, the battalion chief said. At the same time, other firefighters watching the sedan through binoculars suddenly noticed movement — a sign that at least one person was still alive.

This image from video provided by San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office shows a Tesla vehicle that plunged off a Northern California cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, near an area known as Devil’s Slide, leaving four people in critical condition, a fire official said. The vehicle fell about 250 feet (76.20 meters) from the highway, the fire official said. Motorists were told to expect delays as rescuers worked. Helicopters were expected to transport four people to hospitals. (San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

The incident turned from what had been likely a recovery of bodies to a rescue operation that took several hours amid constant rain, heavy winds, slick roads and crashing waves. The doors were smashed against the cliff and jammed shut, so firefighters were forced to cut the victims out of the car using the so-called “Jaws of Life” tools.

Crews pulled the kids out of the back window and brought them up the cliff by hand in a rescue basket using the rope system. They were rushed to the hospital by ambulance with musculoskeletal injuries.

The adults had traumatic injuries, however, and had to be hoisted up the cliff by a helicopter. They were then both flown to the hospital, the battalion chief said.

Police are still investigating the crash. California highway patrol said witness reports and evidence at the scene that gave them enough probable cause the believe this accident was actually an intentional act

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